Sullivan concludes tenure as U.S. ambassador to Russia, leaves Moscow

John Sullivan, a Trump appointee who told Reuters earlier this year it would take “a crowbar” to get him out of Moscow, has left Russia after finishing his tenure as U.S. ambassador there, the U.S. embassy in the country said on Sunday.

“U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation John J. Sullivan has concluded his tenure as U.S. envoy and departed Moscow today,” the embassy said on its website. It said Sullivan, who was named to the post in 2019 by former President Donald Trump, had served in the post for almost three years.

An official of the U.S. State Department said Sullivan had served “a typical tour length for U.S. Ambassadors to Russia.” 

“Ambassador Sullivan’s departure is planned and part of a normal diplomatic rotation. He has served a full tenure as U.S. Ambassador to Russia, managing one of the most critical bilateral relationships in the world during unprecedented times,” said the official, who did not want to be otherwise identified.  

The embassy said Sullivan would retire from public service, after a career spanning four decades and five U.S. presidents, including service as deputy secretary of state and in senior positions at the Departments of Justice, Defense, and Commerce.

It said Elizabeth Rood, who has served as deputy chief of mission since June, would assume duties as charge d’affaires at the Moscow embassy until a successor arrives.

Sullivan served as ambassador to Moscow during Russia’s February invasion of Ukraine, which plunged U.S.-Russia relations to depths not seen since the Cold War.

A loquacious grandson of Irish immigrants, Sullivan told Reuters in an interview in March that he wanted to stay on as ambassador to advocate for Americans detained in Russia, including basketball star Brittney Griner and former Marines Trevor Reed and Paul Whelan. Reed was released in April.

He said he had told colleagues at home “they’re going to have to use a crowbar to pry me out of here because I’m not leaving until … they either throw me out or the president just says, ‘Look, you gotta come home.'”

As relations deteriorated, Trump’s Democratic successor, Joe Biden, decided to retain Sullivan, an establishment Republican lawyer who does not speak Russian but whose affection for Russia dates to his childhood admiration of the Soviet hockey team.

On Saturday, Sullivan attended the funeral of the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow. Gorbachev, who ended the Cold War without bloodshed but failed to prevent the collapse of the Soviet Union, died on Tuesday aged 91. Current Russian leader Vladimir Putin did not attend the memorial event.

The State Department official said the United States would “continue to condemn unequivocally the Kremlin’s aggressive war against Ukraine and remain steadfast in our commitment to supporting Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”

  The official said Washington planned to announce the next ambassador to Moscow “soon,” but declined to say who that might be.

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